I promised I would explain my BlogPoll ballot, and it certainly appears that an explanation is in order, now that I have won the Straight Bangin’ Award and finished first in the "swing" category. Accordingly, here are my reasons for ranking the teams as I did:
I trust it is utterly uncontroversial that I bestowed the No. 1 ranking upon the LSU Tigers (13-0). The Bayou Bengals are the only undefeated team in Division I-A, and Louisiana State defeated No. 4 Alabama, No. 6 Oregon, No. 11 Arkansas, No. 20 Georgia, and No. 22 West Virginia, all but one of them by a lot. Frankly, LSU is No. 1, and LSU’s second string is No. 2.
Since I couldn’t officially cast my vote that way, though, I ranked the Boise St. Broncos, the Oklahoma St. Cowboys, and the Alabama Crimson Tide---all 11-1 on the season---second through fourth, respectively. Though Alabama has the best loss of the three (to No. 1 LSU by a field goal in overtime), the Tide also have the weakest set of wins, as the Red Elephants have beaten only three teams with winning records, and only two with records better than 7-5.
The Pokes, on the other hand, have beaten seven teams above .500, five of which are at least 8-4. The Broncos also have beaten seven teams with winning records and five teams with eight or more wins, just like Oklahoma State, but Boise State has by far the more forgivable loss (to No. 8 TCU by one), whereas the Cowboys fell to the Iowa St. Cyclones (6-6).
I hated to rank the Wisconsin Badgers (11-2) as high as fifth because of all the weak sisters on the Big Ten champions’ schedule; Wiscy feasted on the likes of Minnesota (3-9), Oregon State (3-9), UNLV (2-10), Indiana (1-11), and Division I-AA South Dakota. However, the Badgers also beat No. 10 Michigan State, No. 18 Nebraska, No. 24 Penn State, and de facto No. 27 Northern Illinois, though the four-point road loss to the Ohio St. Buckeyes (6-6) hurts Wisconsin’s case.
While the Oregon Ducks (11-2) had the better pair of losses (to 13-win Louisiana State and ten-win Southern California), the club from Eugene beat only one team with a record better than 7-5, that being the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal (11-1). Stanford’s record matched that of my second- through fourth-ranked teams, but the Cardinal’s resume didn’t; the team has beaten just four teams with winning records, and just two opponents with more than eight wins, while failing to be competitive in its one loss.
The eighth-ranked TCU Horned Frogs (10-2) earned a spot in the top ten by virtue of carding five wins over winning clubs (including Texas Christian’s road win over Boise State) and sustaining a respectable loss (by two on the road to No. 16 Baylor). This got the Frogs the nod over the USC Trojans (10-2), whose identical record included a worse loss (to 6-6 Arizona State) and a weaker “best win” (over Oregon by a field goal). The Michigan St. Spartans (10-3) led the way for the thrice-beaten squads, since Sparty had no bad losses---all three were to teams with eight or more wins, and none were at home---and wins over No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 17 Michigan.
The eleventh-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks (10-2) fall into the same category as the Badgers---four of the Hogs’ wins were over Troy (3-9), Ole Miss (2-10), New Mexico (1-11), and Division I-AA Missouri State; Arky beat only one team with a record better than 7-5---but the Razorbacks defeated the twelfth-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2), who defeated a pair of ten-win teams, including the 13th-ranked Clemson Tigers (10-3), who twice trounced the 14th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2), who beat de facto No. 28 Arkansas State and took care of business against a couple of 8-4 outfits on the road (Georgia Tech and Virginia). It ain’t much, but it beats the achievements of the Kansas St. Wildcats (10-2), who claimed six of their nine Division I-A wins by a touchdown or less despite beating only one team with a record better than 7-5.
That one team was the Baylor Bears (9-3), whom I have slotted one spot in back of the squad that beat them by a point. Baylor defeated ten-win TCU by two and nine-win Oklahoma by seven, but also fell to the Texas A&M Aggies (6-6), who had the bad luck that balanced out Kansas State’s good luck. I had no idea what to do with the Michigan Wolverines (10-2), half of whose wins were over 6-6 squads and whose win over Nebraska was offset by a loss to Iowa, so I ranked the Maize and Blue 17th, just ahead of the aforementioned Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3), who earned respect with wins over Michigan State and Penn State---well, over Michigan State, at any rate---but lost ground by falling at home to the Northwestern Wildcats (6-6) by the same three-point margin by which the ‘Huskers defeated the Nittany Lions on the road.
Nebraska’s old rivals, the Oklahoma Sooners (9-3), earned points for claiming only one of their wins over a team with a losing record, but an OU resume bolstered by only one really good win (at Kansas State) was wounded severely by one really bad loss (to Texas Tech at home). The Georgia Bulldogs (10-3) were victims of resume ranking: I believe the Classic City Canines are better than No. 20, but, while they lost only to quality clubs (Boise State, Louisiana State, and South Carolina are a combined 34-3, and they make up one-fourth of my top 12), they also beat only two teams with winning records, and none with more than eight wins.
The Houston Cougars (12-1) likewise probably are better than their resume, but the Cougs beat eight teams either from the Division I-AA ranks or sporting sub-.500 records, and Houston’s best wins are over Louisiana Tech and Tulsa. That’s why Saturday’s loss put the Conference USA runner-up outside the top 20. Bad losses (to five-win Syracuse and three-win UAB, respectively) detracted substantially from good wins (over Cincinnati and Houston, respectively) carded by the West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3) and the Southern Miss. Golden Eagles (11-2).
The Penn St. Nittany Lions (9-3) had the opposite problem; their losses all were good---to teams with a combined 31-6 ledger---but two-thirds of their wins were over Division I-AA Indiana State and five 6-6 squads, leaving Penn State with little on which to hang its hat except a four-point win over the Temple Owls. Despite a loss to the Tennessee Volunteers (5-7) and “signature” wins over a pair of 7-5 squads (Louisville and N.C. State) at home, the Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) sneaked into the top 25 ahead of the BYU Cougars (who got to 9-3 without registering a victory more impressive than a three-point home win over Utah State, and who lost to a pair of 7-5 teams), the Northern Illinois Huskies (who may be 10-3, but who lost road games to three-win Central Michigan and two-win Kansas), and the the Arkansas State Whatever the Heck the Arkansas States Are (whose ten victims included Division I-AA Central Arkansas and five Division I-A teams with eight or more losses).
As always, take that for what it’s worth, and feel free to offer your constructive criticisms and follow-up questions in the comments. I am particularly interested in your thoughts concerning any deserving four-loss teams I should bear in mind for the final post-bowl ballot, which will, of course, be the one that is set down to stand against history. Your feedback remains greatly appreciated.